Crisis Contemplation — Center for Action and Contemplation
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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

Crisis Contemplation

Crisis Contemplation

Crisis Contemplation
Monday, July 26, 2021

CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes brilliantly teaches about contemplation but not in the way we typically think about it. She understands contemplation as the soul’s arising even in the midst of the most challenging crises humanity faces. Her new book Crisis Contemplation describes how this is the case:

In the midst of devastating crises, we are asked to do the counterintuitive. When the times call for anxiety, flight, or fight . . .  [we are asked] to allow for the possibility of contemplative refuge, respite, and renewal. To slow down and be still is to allow both the source of our troubles and options for recovery to emerge. . . .

However, in its historically understood context, contemplation requires the privilege and time to retreat from the frontlines of everyday life, if only for a little while. For most people of color/culture and communities under siege, such comforts are inconceivable. We dare not shift our gaze for even a moment to consider an alternative reality. Survival requires an alert spiritual and embodied stance. To contemplate (in the ordinary sense of the word) during a crisis might increase the possibility that we miss or misread signs of danger in our immediate environment. . . .

Contemplation is not just an effective response to crisis. It can also arise during the most intense aspects of the event. When bodies are being tortured, when minds are pushed to the breaking point, the human spirit falls through the cracks of the crisis into the center of contemplation. Howard Thurman [1900–1981] referred to this inner space as an island, a place that cannot be breached without personal consent: “When all hope for release in this world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order.” [1]

When the ordinary isn’t ordinary anymore and the crisis is upon us, the self can center in this refuge that I am calling “crisis contemplation,” a space that is neither the result of spiritual seeking nor the voluntary entry into meditative spaces. It is a cracking open, the rupture and shattering of self, community, expectations, and presumptions about how the world works. . . . When we let go, the only constants are God’s love and God’s promise that we will never be left alone.

Barbara’s naming of “crisis contemplation” expands the traditional understanding of contemplation, which has quite frankly been largely formed by educated, privileged (by time and resources if not by the circumstances of their lives), and often celibate male teachers. Crisis contemplation opens the door to an inclusive recognition of how God works in and through all things—even the worst things of life itself.

References:
[1] Howard Thurman, Deep River: Reflections on the Religious Insight of Certain of the Negro Spirituals (Harper & Brothers: 1945, 1955), 25.

Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village (CAC Publishing: 2021), 42, 44, 47.

Story from Our Community:
After reading Barbara Holmes, I pray that the world she describes—where people are interconnected in respect and love—will bring true equality. I am 76 and contribute to a food pantry, donate clothes, and recently participated in a peaceful protest, but I feel like I’m trying to build a sandcastle with tiny grains of sand. I am grateful for these daily meditations; I start each day with them and God soothes my spirit and I continue doing my tiny grains of sand. —Mary W.

Image credit: Oliver, River Steps (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Water on stairs brings up questions that the angle of this photo cannot answer. Are these waters rising or receding? We are navigating in this place of tension, in the eye of the hurricane, unsure if where we stand will flood. Water and Stone: Where is safety? Where is danger?
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